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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
As the only Big Ten team to win its bowl game, Iowa is the lone squad to make a significant move in the final edition of the power rankings. The gap narrowed between Penn State and Ohio State after the Buckeyes' solid effort in the Fiesta Bowl, but Penn State still gets the nod with a better body of work. Northwestern and Michigan State have been mirror images for much of the season and remain that way in the rankings.
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|Shonn Greene rushed for 121 yards and 3 TDs in the Outback Bowl.|
Here's the final rundown for 2008.
1. Penn State (11-2) -- The Nittany Lions looked out of sync in Pasadena, but they faced quite possibly the nation's best team in a virtual road game. It wasn't the way a stellar senior class intended to go out, but an 11-1 regular season highlighted by a road win against Ohio State keeps Penn State atop the rankings.
2. Ohio State (10-3) -- There aren't moral victories in Columbus, but Ohio State made a national statement, even in defeat, by outplaying Texas for most of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Terrelle Pryor-led Buckeyes weren't the same team that had soiled itself against USC on Sept. 13. Ohio State played its best football down the stretch and was seconds away from a fairly substantial upset of Texas.
3. Iowa (9-4) -- Things fell into place perfectly for the Hawkeyes, who ended the season as the Big Ten's hottest team. Iowa rolled over an overmatched South Carolina team in the Outback Bowl to win six of its final seven games. Shonn Greene played a huge role, but so did a defense that led the Big Ten in takeaways (32).
T-4 Michigan State (9-4) -- The Spartans clearly peaked in late September/early October, but they continued to fight hard, especially on the defensive side. They outplayed Georgia for a half in the Capital One Bowl but couldn't capitalize on favorable field position. Though Michigan State beat Northwestern in a head-to-head matchup Oct. 11, the Wildcats played better football down the stretch. So it's a push between the teams.
T-4 Northwestern (9-4) -- Had the Wildcats finished off Missouri in the Alamo Bowl, they would have vaulted to No. 3 in the power rankings and possibly into the top 15 in the national polls. Despite being the biggest underdog in the 34 bowls, Northwestern outplayed Missouri but lost the game because of special-teams blunders. Along with Iowa and Ohio State, the Wildcats saved their best football for the end of the season.
6. Minnesota (7-6) -- The Gophers don't really deserve to move up the rankings after a 21-point loss in the Insight Bowl, but they turned in a better effort than Wisconsin, which self-destructed against Florida State. This team clearly needs some upgrades after losing five straight to close the season, but it was hard to imagine Tim Davis' power run attack clicking right away in the bowl game. There will be a lot of changes in 2009, but Minnesota returns its nucleus.
7. Wisconsin (7-6) -- Despite a win against Minnesota and a better regular-season finish, Wisconsin needed to pay the price for an embarrassing loss in the Champs Sports Bowl. An extremely disappointing season ended with a thud, as Wisconsin had three fumbles, two of which were returned for touchdowns. From coaching to quarterback play to intangibles, Wisconsin seemed to be missing something this fall.
8. Illinois (5-7) -- The Big Ten's bowl fortunes might have been better had the Illini found a way to sneak into the postseason. Then again, a big-play offense and loads of talent translated into only five victories this fall. Head coach Ron Zook seems intent on turning things around with some bold coaching hires. Illinois can't afford another bowl-less winter.
9. Purdue (4-8) -- The Boilermakers sent head coach Joe Tiller out on a high note with a 62-10 pasting of Indiana on Nov. 22. Head coach Danny Hope must restore Purdue's offensive swagger with a new quarterback in 2009, and the Boilers have several holes to fill on defense.
10. Michigan (3-9) -- The Big Ten sorely needs Michigan back in a bowl game in 2009, but Rich Rodriguez has another tough challenge ahead of him. Michigan must identify a capable quarterback, most likely freshman Tate Forcier, and fill gaps along the defensive line. If the offensive line improves and the running game surges behind Brandon Minor, Michigan should be in decent shape for a lower-tier bowl.
11. Indiana (3-9) -- After ending the Big Ten's longest bowl drought in 2007, Indiana slipped back to reality this fall. Head coach Bill Lynch enters 2009 on the hot seat, likely needing at least six victories to keep his job. Indiana has the talent, particularly at defensive end, and if it can stay healthy and improve on defense, a bowl run next fall isn't out of the question.